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Identity Theft

From common theft of credit cards and social security numbers, to thieves who start an entire false financial life using the personal information of someone else. Identity theft can relate to a wide range of criminal activities. It is a form of fraud committed by an individual or a group of people to steal the personal information of someone for their own financial and personal gain. Identity theft can happen in a number of ways but usually thieves tend to steal the outgoing mail and the payments of credit cards from the private curbside mail boxes. They then file a change of address form in the name of the victim to divert their mail and gather their financial as well as personal information. These thieves dig through the garbage cans and dumpsters in search for canceled checks, bank statements and approved credit card offers. Some of them hack into computers that contain personal records and information. They use malware softwares and can even steal this information through the internet. Some of these thieves use phishing in emails to get people to give them their personal information. Identity theft is very difficult to spot but it has the potential to be quite devastating. It has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the whole world and it tops the list as the number one complained crime in the United States with almost nineteen people becoming a victim of identity theft every minute. With the increase in the use of internet this white collar crime is expected to grow even more.

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History And Evolution

Identity Theft has certainly evolved with the introduction of new technology but it is not a new crime. It started simply as a criminal pretending to be someone who looked like him and since back then there were no records and people always paid in cash or kind so it used to be a victimless crime. Before the introduction of the current electronic age, identity theft was limited to stealing the passport, driving license or social security card of a person. In the year 1950 when the credit cards were first introduced, it was nearly impossible to use the identity of someone else because people who wanted to get a credit card were required to appear in person at the bank. In addition to this the manager of the bank needed to vouch that he personally knows the person applying for a credit card is who he claims to be. Although this process made identity theft nearly impossible but it also made the process of credit card application a hassle and an inconvenience.

Today, identity theft includes ATM cards, checkbooks as well as the world wide web. Stealing the ATM card is relatively straight forward and if the thief gets a hold of your personal identification pin then he can make withdrawals from your account with ease. If an identity thief gets access to your checkbook, he can issue checks in your name and make purchases without having to pay for them. Since most of the transactions are carried out through the internet nowadays so it was almost predictable that this is what the identity thieves would target next. Internet has made everything convenient for the users but it has made things easier for the thieves as well. Identity thieves target people who transact online and acquire their credit card number and then make purchases. They can even hack into an institution's database and acquire the list of their client and vendor information. Our reliance on technology has opened new doors for these perpetrators and has given them more avenues to exploit us. In addition to issuing checks and making purchases from our credit cards, these thieves can now assume our identities to commit a crime and then get away with it. They can open bank accounts under the name of their victims and can even apply for a house and auto loan under the victim's name.

Types of Identity Theft

There are different types of identity thefts and people assume that this crime is committed only for the sake of financial and monetary gain but research has shown that only nineteen percent of the reported identity theft crimes involve credit cards and bank accounts. An identity thief can steal your identity just to hide who he really is and impersonate you for various other purposes. Your social security number distinguishes you from everyone else living in your country and is also used for tax purposes, employment reasons and for obtaining a passport. A criminal can steal these numbers for the purpose of evading taxes, getting employed or to abort the country in order to avoid criminal prosecution. Medical identity theft is another type of this crime and is getting more and more common these days. As Insurance is expensive and hard to come by, these criminals use the identities of their victims and steal their medical coverage. They receive medical treatments in their victim's name so they don't have to pay for it. Such crimes are mostly inside jobs, as an insurance agent or a medical personnel is likely to be involved. Driving license theft is the third type of identity theft and as the name suggests involves the use of the victim's driving license to reap personal gains and avoid penalties. Such criminals can commit driving crimes, the responsibility of which will fall back to the victims and their records.

Account take over and true name theft are two other types of identity theft. Account take over involves the identity thief taking over the personal information of the victim and getting access to his bank and credit card accounts. Then the criminal applies for a change of address for the billing statements so that the victim doesn't realize that his identity has been stolen. The thief can them make purchases on credit and subscribe to online services in the name of the victim. True identity theft relates to a situation where the criminal utilizes the personal information of the victim for the purpose of opening new bank accounts, applying for credit cards, creating a new checking account and subscribing to any phone or utility services.

Effects of Identity Theft

Whatever the type of identity theft maybe this criminal activity has devastating short term and long term effects. The short term effects include financial losses, empty bank account balance, canceled credit cards, denial of loans, additional banking fees, payment of higher insurance rates along with certain criminal activities in you name. You have to bear all these losses at once. Whereas the long term effects involve emotional stress, ruined credit history, denial of promotion at work as well as long conversations with the collection agencies that are not willing to clear your name and thus leaving you in a massive hill of debt.. Victims can struggle for years and have to seek counseling after going through this ordeal. Others become extremely paranoid about protecting their private information as the stressful and emotional impact is equivalent to feeling violated and physically assaulted. They start feeling trapped, embarrassed, foolish and some are noted to have nightmares. Marriages tend to end due to identity theft and people just never recover and part of their spirit is gone forever. The worst part is that only twenty percent of the criminals are ever put on the list of suspects and out of those twenty percent only 2 percent are arrested. Just one percent of the criminals are actually convicted of the crime as this is one of the hardest crimes to prosecute.

Simple Ways To Prevent Your Identification From Being Stolen

You can prevent your identity from being stolen if you follows certain steps. As far as credit and debit cards are concerned you need to sign all of them as soon as you receive them. If you own more than one of these cards then you don't need to carry all of them with you at all time. You should only carry the card that you use the most and either cancel or safely store the ones that you don't use. Similarly, there is no need to carry around your passport, birth certificate and social insurance card. You should be aware of the fact that only a selected few government institutions are authorized to collect and make use of the social insurance number. There is no law against someone asking you for your social insurance number. So you need to be careful and not disclose it to anyone other than an authorized government official who is able to demonstrate that you are required by law to disclose it. You should know that nobody can deny you a product or service on the basis of your refusal to provide this number. As far as passwords and personal identification numbers are concerned, you should never use your birth date as your password and should memorize them by heart and never have a written copy. In addition to this you should try and change your PIN every six months.

When you are required to sign a check or other important documents, always use a pen that can help protect against the technique of check washing. It is a criminal activity that involves the use of different solvents to remove data from a signed check. The criminal remove the “pay to”, name and amount of these checks and replace them with his own name and a larger amount. In case of any discrepancies in your monthly statements or a lost or stolen card, you need to report the problem right away. Since mistakes are bound to happen you should check your credit record after every six months and should remember that even a single mistake can lower your overall credit score dramatically. The credit bureaus are required by law to give you a free credit report every year so you need to contact them at least once a year. You should make a copy of all your cards and documents and keep them in a safe place so that in case of a lost or stolen card you can report it easily. You should know that identity thieves are known to obtain invaluable amounts of information from the trash of the people and this is the reason they are given the name of dumpster driver and trash archaeologist. A good way to protect yourself from this is by investing in a quality paper shredder that has a cross cut section instead of a straight cut action. It can destroy all the paperwork containing any personal information that you no longer need like pre-approved credit card solicitations, bank statements, magazine subscription renewals and convenience checks.

You should never leave receipts at bank machines, wickets, gasoline pumps and trash cans. Nowadays pre-texting and phishing is commonly used by criminals to collect sensitive information from people through telephone or email. So unless you are absolutely sure about who is at the other end of the call or email, you should never give out your personal information. You should never leave important documents in your vehicle and have your mail sent to a post office box which is more secure. Installing a lockable mailbox at your home is also a good measure and if you are away from home you should have your mail, newspapers and magazines picked up every day. Since computers have become a part and parcel of everyone's life nowadays and personal information is stored on the hard drives of our computer. So we need to protect our computers with a good anti-virus and firewall software along with a good password to log in to the computer. The wireless connections need to be secure as personal information can also be acquired through them as well. If you decide to sell your computer you should make sure that it doesn't include your hard drive because even after a hard drive has been erased, deleted information can easily be retrieved with the help of recovery softwares. Social networking websites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all the rage nowadays. While these websites can be great fun they also prove to be a playground for identity thieves. So to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of these criminals you need to set the security settings to the highest possible level and minimize the amount of personal information you display and add only those people who you actually know.

Conclusion

Stealing identities had never been more convenient and profitable for identity thieves as it is today because of the internet. Online transactions don't require the physical identity of the buyer and all the thief requires is the right card number and a couple of easily accessible personal information and phone numbers. After keying in all of this the thief can easily complete the transaction in a matter of minutes thus ruining your good name and credit score. Restoring which will require a considerable amount of time, effort and money as you will be required to get it touch with different agencies and credit bureaus to dispute the entries that were fraudulently committed in your name. This process can take months and even years in certain cases and on top of that large sums of money are required to be spent for the purpose of righting the wrong. The average expense of trying to clear your name is in excess of $3,000 and that too without any assurance that your name will actually be cleared. But you will have no option but to bear this expense for the purpose of clearing your name. While it is not possible to completely protect yourself from identity theft but there are certain measures that you can take to reduce your attractiveness to the identity thieves. A lot of people say that identity theft is undetectable, unavoidable, and unstoppable so the best piece of advice in this regard is to pay attention to the people around you when using your personal information and be very conscious of who you're sharing your personal information with as you never know where it might end up.

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